Fall has finally arrived in the Fox River Valley, and with it all the trappings of the season. The leaves are changing and falling. Classes are in full swing and the students of Waubonsee are doing great things across all four campuses.

With the change in the seasons, it is an appropriate time to acknowledge another ongoing change, this one in the minds of people. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal presents the findings of a survey about perceptions of the value of college education (“Americans Losing Faith in College Degrees, Poll Finds”). These findings are corroborated by survey results from Public Agenda about public confidence in higher education (“Public Opinion on Higher Education”). In both surveys, the consensus is that Americans are seeing reduced value in higher education.

At Waubonsee Community College, we realize we have a responsibility to continue to share the story of why investing in a college credential is essential for career and professional success.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from April 2017, the unemployment rate among people with a high school diploma is 5.2 percent while the rate for people with an associate degree is just 3.6 percent. As a point of reference, the national unemployment rate as currently reported by the BLS is 4.4 percent.

Not only are community college graduates more likely to be employed full-time, they have higher incomes, as well. According to the same BLS report, high school graduates earn just under $36,000 per year while community college graduates earn more than $42,500 per year.

Presented another way, a report from the American Association of Community Colleges shows that, given the increased lifetime earning of community college graduates and the typical out-of-pocket costs for community college, the benefit-cost ratio is 4.8. In other words, for every $1 students invest in themselves at a community college, they receive $4.80 in future income. This equates to a rate of return of approximately 17 percent.

As compelling as the financial value of community college is to individuals, it is not the entire story. The time spent in college is at least as personally enriching as it is financially rewarding. Students at Waubonsee are leaders in clubs and organizations. They learn from each other and help others learn. They are athletes, tutors, mechanics, musicians and poets. Our students are single, married, parents, recent high school graduates and long-time employees in area businesses. Regardless of where they came from and what their academic and career aspirations are, they are at Waubonsee for one reason: to better themselves. And that makes the Waubonsee experience worthwhile.

In its 50 years, Waubonsee Community College has awarded more than 40,000 diplomas and certificates. All Waubonsee students—both current and past—have every reason to be proud of their work and accomplishments here. The decision of where to invest in one’s self through education is important. Investing in self at Waubonsee is a wise investment for the financial gains. But more than that, the personal enrichment and contribution to the community of learners make time at Waubonsee very well spent.